A Walk on the Neo-Noir Side: The Last Seduction (1994)
About 15 minutes after I started watching The Last Seduction (1994), I found myself thinking how familiar it felt – so “noir-esque,” if you will. And after just a single viewing, it became my favorite neo-noir.
The film stars Linda Fiorentino, whom I’d never seen before and have never seen since; she was later in Men in Black, Jade, and a handful of other films, but the only role I’ve ever set eyes on was that of her Bridget Gregory in The Last Seduction – and it was the role of a lifetime. In her first appearance on the screen, as we hear her ruthlessly and relentlessly berate a room full of telemarketers, we know she’s no sweetheart. Dressed nearly all in black (as she is for most of the film – the monochromatic opposite of Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice), she strolls (or, rather, stalks) up and down the floor, a stopwatch in her hand, calling them eunuch, bastards, suckers.
She’s quite a gal.
Another individual who figures prominently in the film is Bridget’s husband, Clay, memorably played by Bill Pullman. In our introduction to Clay, he is selling a suitcase full of “pharmaceutical cocaine” to a pair of hoods – although he fears that his payoff is going to be his life instead of the $700,000 he expected, he winds up with the money, stuffing the stacks of bills inside his jacket. The action heats up when Clay shows the money to his wife, who calls him an idiot for walking through the streets with nearly a million dollars in his shirt. He slaps her – an impulsive act that will prove to be pivotal. Just minutes later, Bridget takes the money, dashes out of the apartment while Clay is in the shower, removes her wedding ring, and hits the road.
On her way to Chicago, Bridget stops in a small town called Beston to gas up. It’s in a nearby bar that we – and Bridget – meet the film’s third principal character, Mike Swale (played to naive, lustful perfection by Peter Berg). In the bar, Bridget’s order is ignored by the bartender, and, instantly attracted to her dark good looks, Mike Swale gallantly steps in to help. Bridget, however, is not interested. “Could you leave? Please?” she asks. “Well, I haven’t finished charming you yet,” Mike responds, to which Bridget retorts: “You haven’t started.” Still endeavoring to win Bridget’s heart – or some part of her – Mike informs her that he’s “hung like a horse.” Perhaps wishing only to amuse herself, perhaps with other, more far-reaching plans in mind, Bridget asks to see for herself, unzips his pants right in the bar, and then fires off a series of questions: how many lovers has he had? Have any been prostitutes? Does he have his own place? Does it have indoor plumbing? Before long, the two are in Mike’s apartment.
The next morning, Mike awakens to find Bridget on the telephone, rummaging through his refrigerator. She is speaking to her lawyer – played by the fine character actor, the late J.T. Walsh, who advises her to stay in the small town and hang onto the cash she has taken for as long as it takes for her get divorced. A nice piece of business occurs in this scene: after searching the fridge, Bridget finally brings out a platter covered in plastic wrap. She takes a bite – it’s apple pie – and spits it out in disgust. When she finishes her phone conversation, she stubs out her cigarette in the pie, and we then see the post-it note on top that says, “Love, Grandma.” It’s the little touches like these that made The Last Seduction zoom to the top of my neo-noir chart. Another nice bit is the fact that, at one point in the film, Bridget gives her name as “Mrs. Neff” – a reference to one of the great entries in the classic noir cycle, Double Indemnity (and, as you might know by now, my all-time favorite noir). I also love the dialogue in the film; in one scene, Bridget asks Mike, “Is it the morality of murder that bothers you, or is it the personal risk?” In another, Mike tells her: “I just realized that I don’t want to be with you enough to be like you.”
I don’t want to get into too many details about the plot (not that it would be easy!), but at its core, it focuses on the triangle of Bridget, her husband and her lover. There’s Bridget’s scheme to get away with the money she took from her husband, her husband’s determination to find her and the money, and Mike’s all-consuming desire for Bridget. Beyond that, it’s sufficient to say that The Last Seduction has more twists than a roller coaster at Disney World. Just when you think you have it figured out, it takes a dip and throws you for another loop.
I’m a big fan of the neo-noir – some of my other faves include L.A. Confidential, Bound, 11:14, Body Heat, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – but my absolute favorite is The Last Seduction. If you haven’t seen it, see it. And if you have seen it, see it again.
You only owe it to yourself.